Ann Anderson of Omak and Eary Hawkins of Riverside are regulars at the Methow Valley Senior Center’s monthly dance. Photo by Marcy Stamper

Ann Anderson of Omak and Eary Hawkins of Riverside are regulars at the Methow Valley Senior Center’s monthly dance. Photo by Marcy Stamper

The monthly Senior Center dance draws a regular crowd, including a 101-year-old who’s still light on his feet

 

By Ann McCreary

Eary Hawkins dances every dance, guiding his partner briskly around the floor with elegance and grace. Not bad for a man who is 101 years old.

“I came here to dance. I didn’t come to sit on the sidelines,” said Hawkins, stepping onto the dance floor as the
Hottell Ragtime Band launched into the first song of the dance last Friday (Dec. 6) at the Methow Valley Senior Center.

A resident of Riverside, Hawkins never misses the monthly Senior Center dance in Twisp, held on the first Friday of every month.

“My mother taught me to dance when I was 8 years old,” said Hawkins, who grew up in the small town of Northgate, N.D.

That means Hawkins has been dancing for 93 years.

Hawkins eventually moved to Washington state, where he worked from 1934 – 1941 as a boilermaker at Grand Coulee Dam. “I was one of the last welders to weld the drum gates,” he said.

Married twice, for a total of more than 70 years, Hawkins is a widower now. Dressed in a checked cowboy shirt, tan slacks and cowboy boots, he graciously invites the ladies at the dance onto the floor, and accepts invitations from them as well.

Hawkins said he’s been coming to the Twisp dances for 14 years. In years past, he said, the dance floor was a lot more crowded. But many of the people who used to come came have grown too old or passed away, he said.

“I love dancing!” Hawkins exclaimed as he glided across the dance floor.

When he’s not dancing, “I keep myself busy,” Hawkins said. He has a unique hobby — constructing windmills — that he places around his home in Riverside. “I don’t have any spare time,” he said.

 

The band, from left: Don Mendro, Bill Hottell, Kyrie Jardin and Diana Hottell. Photo by Marcy Stamper

The band, from left: Don Mendro, Bill Hottell, Kyrie Jardin and Diana Hottell. Photo by Marcy Stamper

Long tradition

The Friday dance begins after lunch. Hawkins “is always the first one to clear the tables for the dance,” said piano player Bill Hottell.

The dancers pitch in to sweep the floor after lunch and sprinkle a dusting of fine sand on the surface to make it even better for dancing.

Hottell’s wife, Diana, began playing music for the dance about 30 years ago, and he’s been involved for almost as long.

“It’s one of the long traditions of the Methow.  We’ve gotten very fond of the regulars. They enjoy dancing so much and they’re really an inspiration,” Hottell said. “Some of the folks are so hobbled with arthritis, they walk very slowly. Then they get out onto the dance floor and they float and glide,”

Last week more than 30 dancers enjoyed the music — a comparatively big crowd, said Bill Hottell.

Several local residents were out on the floor, but the majority of people attending the dance last week come from communities outside the Methow Valley — Omak, Okanogan, Tonasket and Riverside. Hottell said one couple regularly flies to Twisp in their private plane from Wenatchee for the dance.

Sid Anderson of Omak and his wife, Ann, are regulars at the Twisp dance. They said many of the same people can be seen at other dances held in Omak and Okanogan. Hawkins is at “99.9 percent” of the dances, Anderson said.

Lloyd Bjerge and Alice Glandon are regulars at the dance. Photo by Marcy Stamper

Lloyd Bjerge and Alice Glandon are regulars at the dance. Photo by Marcy Stamper

Joining Bill and Diana Hottell in the Ragtime Band last week were Don Mendro on drums, Kyrie Jardin on trombone and Carolyn Sullivan on spoons.

Sullivan frequently set her spoons aside in order to accept an invitation to dance. “We keep losing part of our percussion section,” Hottell said with a laugh.

“It’s such a nice group of people, and they have such a warm camaraderie among themselves,” said Sullivan.

The dance lasts about 90 minutes and always ends the same way, Hottell said.

“We always play ‘Till We Meet Again,’ and the dancers form a circle, hold hands and move together toward the center, raising their joined hands above their heads as the song ends,” Hottell said.

“The neat thing about the circle is it’s a bonding ritual. Part of it is they know that maybe next month, somebody might be gone,” Hottell added.

Then the band lightens the mood with “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” a 1920s drinking song as the final number — until next month’s dance.

“It’s something that keeps them alive — the dancing,” Hottell said.